Welcome to my Second Acts Series!
Today, we have Catherine Castle talking about an unexpected second act and her debut novel, The Nun and the Narc.
We all go through a series of second acts in our lives. We transition from teenager to adult, from single to married, from wife or husband to parent. Most of us go from job to job. Change can be scary, even if you want it, and shattered first acts can be devastating, if you let them be.
My first act was shattered at 19 when I was turned down for musical theatre at the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music. The only thing I ever wanted was to sing professionally. With no music theory background, the college took me in on probation based on the quality of my voice. I thought I was on my way when I made that cut. But at the end of the year I was told, “Sorry. You have a beautifully sweet voice, but sweet will never make it as a singer.” That news hit me so hard I didn’t sing in public for over a year, which, for a singer, was like a year without food or water.
At a loss for a career, it never occurred to me to try something I had been doing all my life—writing. I had been so focused on singing that I couldn’t see what was right in front of me. Writing was a creative outlet not a job choice. Instead, I went to business college. After graduation I married my high school sweetheart, who helped soothe my shattered soul, and, after that first year of no singing, I gathered the courage to sing again in public. I had let people who didn’t believe in me shatter my dream, but others appreciated the gift God had given me. In spite of not following a singing career, I knew I had an obligation to use my gift however I could.
Fast forward 21 years later and I’m very happily employed as a domestic engineer, a fancy title in that era for mothers and housewives who didn’t have paying careers. Still writing for myself, I began to wonder if I could make money on my hobby. The local weekly newspapers featured articles by by-lined contributors who I learned were non-staff members submitting articles for publication. In the simplistic, mostly uninformed mind of someone who had never taken a journalism course in her life, I thought, I know how to write. I could do that. So, I began to look for ideas to write about. The opportunity came when our church built a new facility. I gathered up my courage, called the paper, and asked if I could submit an article about the groundbreaking.
The editor said, “Sure, but I can’t pay you or give you a byline.”
No pay and no byline almost stopped me. I was older and wiser, however. I had once let others stop me from pursuing a dream, and I was not about to give this one up. I’d give away as many articles as I needed to in order to get the job as contributor. So, I said, “No problem.”
I studied the paper’s lead writer, modeling my piece after hers, and I was thrilled when they printed it just like I’d written it—not a single correction. Then I promptly tried to think of something else to write about. My efforts netted me nothing until the church had its first service in the new building. Once again, I gathered my courage and asked if I could do another piece. I bargained for a byline, offering this piece free, too, and the editor accepted the terms. Seeing my name at the top of the article hooked me. I wanted to see that again and again.
Shortly afterwards, I invited the editor to a writer’s meeting to talk to members about writing for the newspaper. I wanted to know how to become a stringer, and I was too scared to come right out and ask her to hire me. When she finished her talk, I asked two questions. What kind of topics was she looking for as newspaper articles? (Remember I sucked at coming up with ideas back then.) And how did one become a stringer?
She looked at me and said, “Come into the office tomorrow and we can talk about signing a stringer contract for you.”
I worked part time for the Community Press for 10 years. When I left their employ to focus on fiction writing, the second act of my writing career, I had over 600 articles and hundreds of photos to my credit. I had branched out into other markets writing for children, seniors, learned how to reslant and reuse my interviews and notes, and bargained for rights. Other regional editors from Community Press papers would call me to string for them, and I gladly accepted every job.
It’s funny how things work out. Had I made it into musical theatre, I might not have married my high school sweetheart. I’d have been in New York chasing another dream. I wouldn’t have my wonderful husband, beautiful daughter, or even my best friends. One shattered dream turned into a lifetime of happiness and a different career, albeit much later than I ever dreamed possible.
If you’re looking for your second act in life, here’s a piece of advice: Your dream is closer to you than you probably realize. Had I realized at age 19 the writing path waited for me I might not have taken 21 years to discover journalism and another 23 to become a published author. I could have a lot more books out there had I discovered that second act dream sooner.
I once interviewed a woman who got her GED at age 80. So, don’t let others, taking chances, or being afraid discourage you. Follow your dreams whenever they become known to you. It’s never too late.
I didn’t realize it until I was writing this blog post, but The Nun and the Narc is about second acts, too. Sister Margaret Mary and the hero Jed are faced with their own second acts in a fast-paced action adventure.
Blurb from The Nun and the Narc
Where novice Sister Margaret Mary goes, trouble follows. When she barges into a drug deal the local Mexican drug lord captures her. To escape she must depend on undercover DEA agent Jed Bond. Jed’s attitude toward her is exasperating, but when she finds herself inexplicable attracted to him he becomes more dangerous than the men who have captured them, because he is making her doubt her decision to take her final vows. Escape back to the nunnery is imperative, but life at the convent, if she can still take her final vows, will never be the same.
Nuns shouldn’t look, talk, act, or kiss like Sister Margaret Mary O’Connor—at least that’s what Jed Bond thinks. She hampers his escape plans with her compulsiveness and compassion and in the process makes Jed question his own beliefs. After years of walling up his emotions in an attempt to become the best agent possible, Sister Margaret is crumbling Jed’s defenses and opening his heart. To lure her away from the church would be unforgivable—to lose her unbearable.
Where to find Catherine…
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Thank you for sharing your inspiring journey, Catherine. Last month, I read The Nun and the Narc in two sittings. Simply delightful!